The Red Bull driver stretched his advantage at the top of the world championship to 19 points over Lewis Hamilton with a dominant victory at the Autodromo Hermans Rodriguez, but he almost came away from Mexico with a 20-point cushion. 

Verstappen held the fastest lap of the race in the closing stages of Sunday’s race but ultimately lost it when Mercedes pitted Valtteri Bottas - running outside of the points - to deny Red Bull the bonus point.

However, Verstappen came close to thwarting Bottas’ late bid for the fastest lap thanks to some canny driving. 

Having switched to softs, Bottas rejoined the track on lap 65 just a few seconds behind Verstappen and a lap down. 

Red Bull informed Verstappen of the situation and Verstappen responded by slowing down in the stadium section when he was running just ahead of Bottas. 

At the time, TV replays only showed what appeared to be a rare mistake by Verstappen as he had a small lock up. 

But it was all part of a deliberate ploy by Verstappen to purposely stall Bottas. In total, the Dutchman dropped over three seconds in one lap. 

Bottas proceeded to un-lap himself on the approach to Turn 1. Verstappen immediately came over his team radio to say “he is in my way”, before once again putting a lap on Bottas at the start of the following tour. 

“Okay it sounds like Bottas is going to pit again and have another go. But that was a nice catch,” Verstappen’s race engineer Gianpiero Lambiase said on lap 68. 

Mercedes responded by calling Bottas in again to give him another set of fresh tyres and return him to the track in free air.

Bottas delivered on the final lap - aided by a DRS boost as he overtook the George Russell’s Williams - to post a 1m17.774s. 

It was enough to secure the fastest lap by over a second and prevented Verstappen from adding to his points haul. It also ensured Mercedes stayed ahead of Red Bull in the constructors’ championship. 

“It was a bit of playing around,” said Mercedes boss Toto Wolff. “Max was aware that Valtteri was going for quickest lap and he then slowed him down, which is absolutely on, he can do that.

“So we went for another set, and this time in free air grabbed that fastest lap back.”

Red Bull team principal Christian Horner admitted the late gamesmanship created additional stress in the final laps of what had otherwise been a comfortable afternoon for Verstappen. 

“It certainly didn't help our blood pressure on the pit wall,” Horner said. “Obviously there was a little bit of playing around, because Max was keen to retain the fastest lap.

“So therefore he was trying to use the blue flag to ensure that Valtteri gave way to him, and then Mercedes pitted him out of the way. We weren't going to do the same with Max, obviously.

“It was a little bit of gamesmanship again, haggling over that final point, which we didn't want to get too drawn into.”

But Verstappen insisted he had no concerns about Bottas potentially making contact with him. 

“I can understand, of course, they go for the fastest lap,” he said. “So, the first time it didn’t work out. But we played it safe, I think.

“We were side by side but it was all good. We lost a lot of time but it was alright, to be honest, for me. I know Valtteri, he’s a clean driver anyway and I never was in doubt that something would happen.”

He may ultimately have been unsuccessful, but Verstappen demonstrated incredible awareness to read the situation and highlighted his determination to maximise points at every opportunity amid his ongoing title battle with Hamilton.